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Sunday, 09 September 2018 00:00

Liberation Day in Kastellorizo (Meis) - Thursday 13th September

Meis Independence Day Meis Independence Day

If you are in Kalkan next week and are looking for an interesting day out you may want to consider a day trip to the nearby Greek island of Meis (Kastellorizo).

Thursday 13th September is Liberation Day on Meis.  Normally the island is a sleepy backwater where nothing much happens but on this day they hold a ceremony at the harbour that is attended by the great and the good - including VIPs from the Greek mainland.

Even on such an auspicious day it’s not over crowded but there is certainly a buzz about the place.

Meis (Kastellorizo)

To give you some background to Liberation Day we thought you might like to read a brief history of the island.  It’s rather complex so we have made it simple.

At different times it has come under the rule of different masters.  Ottoman domination began in the 1530s but subsequently the island found itself occupied at different times by the Venetians, Greeks, various marauding pirates, and even the Russians (briefly).

The 20th century began with Ottoman rule but the island’s inhabitants were mostly Greek.  It wasn’t a happy time.  By the outbreak of the First World War (WWI) in 1914 the island was in turmoil and chaos.  France occupied the island in 1915 which was welcomed by the islanders who were not too happy with Ottoman rule, but as there was a war on the arrival of the French inevitably led to attacks from both Germany and Turkey.

After WWI ended the French were set to hand over the island to self-rule but the Italians stepped in pronto and claimed it for themselves and there began a harsh period of Italian rule - from 1921 to 1943.  Many of the island’s inhabitants who considered themselves to be Greek left.

Below: Meis in 1931.

Meis in 1931

In 1940 when Italy entered the Second World War (WWII) the island suffered even more.  British forces attacked the island in 1941 and in September 1943 when the Italians surrendered to the Allied forces, the British moved in to liberate the island.  This is why every year on 13th September the islanders of Meis celebrate and commemorate this event.

Unfortunately the experience of British occupation was not a happy one.  After their liberation the war raged on and with the island still under British control it was subjected to continual attacks from the Germans.  Many inhabitants were hurriedly removed from the island for their own safety but the exodus was badly managed and people were not sure how long they would be away.  Many left most of their possessions behind as they were sent to safer locations in Cyprus and Gaza.

Whilst the islanders were away from Meis many properties were destroyed by German aerial attacks and also by a serious fire that broke out in 1944.  By the end of WWI in 1945 Meis, still under British rule, was in ruins as its inhabitants slowly began to return home only to find their homes and possessions gone.  

The Dodecanese islands, including Meis, were formally ceded to Greece on 15th February 1947.  Sadly by this time there were very few inhabitants on the island compared to the pre war years - around 600 or so, and those numbers have fallen further over recent decades.  Where did they all go you may ask?  Well some moved to a place near Athens on the Greek mainland and many more ended up in Australia.  But that’s another story.

So if you fancy being around on a special day in the island’s calendar why not pay them a visit on Thursday 13th September.  Local tour operators in Kalkan will help you arrange this day trip.


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